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This Is What It’s Like To Die by Harmony Neal


I didn’t know who I was most days. How long, I’m not sure. I guess for years I looked at the spots and nails on my shaking hands and declared they must belong to someone else. I’d see the floral blouses and pant suits they dressed me in and insist I’d been crammed into someone else’s body.

     I wake on the porch swing. The honeysuckle is in bloom. I am me. All of me. Memories of me and Sal on the boardwalk, me in a blue and white striped bikini that would have scandalized Father. Lillian eating her first tootsie pop, the translucent brown smeared around her fat baby lips. The time I tried out for the part of Laurie, but something in my eyes and hips made the director cast me as Ado Annie, and all the secret pleasures of playing that part. I pranced and jiggled in that corset and hoop skirt and felt I was in a private cabaret.

     My hands are white and smooth. I touch my fingers to my face, run down to the river, legs pumping movements they haven’t imagined in years. I do a cartwheel in the clover and dandelions. I belt out a few lines from “I Can’t Say No.” The world is opening up green and lush around me, the smell of dew and grass is intoxicating. In every bird’s call, on every butterfly’s wing, the hum of possibility.


The water is so cold. It fills my clothes. It gets into my nose and mouth. Everything is black. I try to find the out, bang on the ice.

     I become very still. I start to float. I float away from myself until I can see the puffy pink coat grandma got me for Christmas. My braids bob in the water. I can see the hole where I went in. I was so close to making it out. It doesn’t matter. I float up and up. I can see lights in the sky. There’s a blanket and dry clothes. A friendly bear gives me a bowl of Malt-o-meal. I am so happy.


I’ve had more than my fifteen minutes, but it’s been so long. A diva on her deathbed hardly resembles a diva at all. I lay drowning in sequins and chiffon. Each night, a different dress, each night, like I’m being swallowed whole—but this is the way to make sure the gods recognize me. They will know to put me in a womb where I can gather my strength, pop out and take the world anew. I don’t care if I slide out white or even a girl. I just need the lungs. I need the swagger.
     I lie perfectly still on my back, bring the silver cigarette holder to my lips. It’s going to happen—it has to happen. I whisper my mantra, praying the gods will hear me and grant me this wish. The song is over. I turn the page and begin again.


The dark carnival is real. The juggalos ride dirt bikes and four wheelers. Everyone’s snorting crank, smoking it, shooting it, so good. Everywhere you look, Faygo’s on tap in barrels. Everyone’s got their face makeup on. We all look so real, so like ourselves. We yip and holler and ride. The bitches don’t wear shirts. Just titties, titties, titties at the party where we’re all invited, where we all belong. No angry parents. No ex-girlfriends who are too good for you now with their uptight skirts and secretary jobs. No teachers, no punks, no gang-bangers, no sorority girls—just juggalos and juggalettes.


My marble crumbles, chunks that break into rocks, that smash into shards, that flatten into grains. Other cities have removed my organs, taken my blood, sucked out my marrow that they slurp and inject into their own bones. Their spirits circle me with spread black wings. They rest on busted street lamps, beady eyes trained on the rest of my blood. They breathe my new, clean air into their lungs, hold it in. They shift restlessly, claw to claw, anxious for me to keel.
     They are too late.
     I am rising out of the ash left by the fires of industry. Injected with new blood of my own, I flower and bloom, I become legion. The asphalt cracks and crumbles like old scabs to reveal new, shiny flesh. I am more alive than I’ve been in decades. I thrive and grow, wilder, wilding. Their platelets travel to join my own, inject themselves into a breathing host.
     From the busted streetlamps, the others watch and tremble, peck at their lice. I am the new beginning. They cough and ruffle soot from their bodies. I feel for them, wish they’d join me. But they can’t see the new beginning, can’t understand. They don’t watch from trees, don’t notice the onions and garlic and watermelons in bloom. They don’t know how. They flex their talons on crumbling concrete and wait for a feast that will never be theirs.
Harmony Neal died, then rose from the dead. There was no hullabaloo. She’s not bitter. She’s been published in recent issues of Gulf Coast, New Letters, Hobart, Cold Mountain Review, Curly Red Stories, and Prick of the Spindle.